Faces of the Boone Film Festival

It all began a little over a year ago when three friends were enjoying a few beers at a local bar. Bill Ireland, Russ Hiatt and Jason Berry were talking about the Banff Film Festival, which visits Boone each year as part of it’s world tour. There’s a running joke around town: “Boone does Banff better than Banff does Banff!”

The guys started thinking, “What if Boone had it’s own film festival? The people of Boone have their own, unique stories to tell.” And so, the Boone Film Festival was born.

In an interview with ArtsNow, Ireland remembers the beginning: “All we knew about film festivals is that we liked film festivals,” he said. “We wanted to create an experience that celebrated Appalachia — the adventure, the culture and the environment of this beautiful place. One of the best things about being in a small town is knowing people that help one another.”

Soon Ireland and the other founders connected with Wonderland Woods Productions, a talented trio of videographers from South Florida, but who are now “living the dream in Boone.” Paul Halluch, Eitan Abramowitz and Jerry Sebastian immediately jumped on board with the Boone Film Festival and through the course of a little over a year, these six guys created a fantastic event that was the hottest ticket in town over the weekend.

[Related: More ArtsNow coverage of the Boone arts scene]

The Harvest House hosted the sold out festival and was the perfect setting for the inaugural event. As soon as you walk in the door, the delicious smell of popcorn greeted festival goers. “We HAD to have popcorn,” said Sebastian, a festival producer. “Just the smell of the popcorn alone makes you feel like you are at the movies, and a lot of movie festivals don’t serve popcorn.” Appalachian Mountain Brewery also provided refreshments, with proceeds from food and drink sales going to Mountain Alliance, a local nonprofit providing youth with opportunities to explore and develop their leadership potential through experimental learning. India, a student member, says Mountain Alliance “is not just a program for teens, it’s a home.”

One of the running themes was empowering youth. The films kicked off with a breathtaking festival trailer produced by Wonderland Woods. It started with a shot of Ryan Lawrence, a seventh grader from Hardin Park Elementary School, walking into a classroom to sit down and play his original piano piece he created for the festival. His original score is one of multiple compositions this young musician has under his belt. During the show, host Patrick Wilkinson talked about the importance of education and asked all the teachers in the building to stand up for a round of applause. (As a public school teacher, I was really touched by that appreciation!)

There was a special youth category for film makers 18 and younger. “Snow Song” by 13 year old Jackson Hudspeth says skiing in the Appalachian Mountains is like “flying on a big white cloud” and “no matter how hard you fall, you have to get up.” In “The Search for Life” by Brody O’Neal, a young man searches for mountain trout in the rivers of Appalachia: “You never know what’s gonna happen. Sometimes you catch a ton of fish. Sometimes you catch zero fish. Sometimes you catch a fish of a lifetime in your own backyard.”

But the winner of the Best Youth Film was “Take Me To The Mountain” by Lucas Pruitt, a film about mountain biking. “If someone asks me what the most fun thing to do in the mountains is, I can’t respond with just one thing! You have to do what excites you,” he said. The youth category was created in hopes of inspiring youth to become filmmakers. This year, special guest speaker and judge Dean Lyon visited a local Boone middle school and high school to talk to the kids about his inspiring experiences where he created visual effects on such iconic, visually dazzling films as “Star Wars,” “Independence Day,” “The Matrix” and “Avatar.”

The night was full of so many fantastic films; 31 were submitted in all. From the heart-breaking tale of “Hemlock Woolly Adelaid: A Film about the Loss of an Ecosystem” by Chris Foito, winner of the Best Environmental Film category, to the heartwarming winner of Best Film “Long Start to the Journey” by Chris Galloway, to the inspiring tale of rock-n-roller turned pig farmer Adam Musick “Musickland” by Cameron Bargerstock.

Film is about telling stories, the stories of each other and of our experiences. The Boone Film Festival highlighted the best in local film making and, in turn, created an amazing experience for the town of Boone.

Click on the images below to see some of the Faces of the Festival.

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